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January 8, 2013

Ex Libris: Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know

Filed under: ex libris — amastyleinsider @ 2:03 pm
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Last month’s Ex Libris column reviewed Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, the first in a series of 4 titles in the 101 Words series by Grammar Girl alter ego Mignon Fogarty (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/). This month’s column reviews Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know. Just as Grammar Girl soared to the aid of grammarians in their quest to avoid misusing commonly confused words, so too does she come to the rescue of recent high school graduates (and those not so recent graduates) who want to appear educated and erudite. As Fogarty writes in her introduction, “You may or may not have been taught these words in high school, but they’ll serve you well from here on out. Use them in your college entrance essays or during job interviews to show that you’re well-read and well-spoken.”

Although this book could easily have become 1001 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know, Fogarty wisely narrows her list to 4 to 6 words from each letter of the alphabet from a variety of disciplines (eg, politics, science, and economics). As with 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know is a fun-to-read and easy-to-use paperback that is formatted as a glossary, with words arranged alphabetically and most entries only 1-page long. Each entry includes a quotation illustrating the correct usage of the word in question from such historical and cultural icons as Harry Truman, Andy Warhol, and Homer Simpson. For example, in the entry on Tenacious, Fogarty quotes the Belgian philosopher Paul De Man, “Metaphors are much more tenacious than facts.”

For users of the AMA Manual of Style, a few entries are particularly useful because they directly relate to the guidelines outlined in the manual (www.amamanualofstyle.com). For the term chronic, Fogarty writes, “In medicine, the opposite of a chronic disease (something that comes on slowly and will progress over a long time) is an acute disease (something that comes on suddenly, is severe, and is likely to end). For example, type II diabetes is a chronic condition and a stroke is an acute condition.” This supports the entry from the AMA Manual of Style, which states that the terms acute and chronic “are most often preferred for descriptions of symptoms, conditions, or diseases; they refer to duration, not severity.”

For the term malignant, Fogarty writes, “Malignant diseases and situations are aggressive, out of control, and dangerous. In medicine, only malignant tumors are called cancer; less invasive tumors are called benign.” In the AMA Manual of Style, the usage note for malignant reads, “When referring to a specific tumor, use malignant neoplasm or malignant tumor rather than malignancy. Malignancy refers to the quality of being malignant.”

Fogarty also defines the term correlation and provides the useful tip, “A common scientific phrase is correlation does not equal causation—a reminder that studies often find that events happen at the same time without proving that one causes the other.” This is similar to the AMA Manual of Style’s definition of the term correlation as the “description of the strength of an association among 2 or more variables, each of which has been sampled by means of a representative or naturalistic method from a population of interest. … There are many reasons why 2 variables may be correlated, and thus correlation alone does not prove causation.”

Finally, both Fogarty and the AMA Manual of Style describe the difference between the terms quantitative and qualitative. Fogarty writes, “People often confuse quantitative and qualitative, in part because qualitative results can be presented in ways that makes them look quantitative, for example, when researchers ask qualitative questions, but have subjects answer on numerical scales: How happy were you to see the dolphins? Answer on a scale from 1 to 10.” According to the AMA Manual of Style, qualitative data is “data that fit into discrete categories according to their attributes, such as nominal or ordinal data, as opposed to quantitative data,” which is “data in numerical quantities such as continuous data or counts (as opposed to qualitative data).”

Although Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know was written with a general audience in mind, much can be gained by the medical editor reader. Not only the entries on specific medical words but also the entries on general terms commonly encountered in scientific writing, such as ad hoc, epitome, jargon, kilometer, and mandate, are helpful for the editor.—Laura King, MA, ELS

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